SS Monte Carlo, the floating casino that mocked Prohibition

Every cloud has a silver lining. El Niño , that meteorological phenomenon consisting of an irregular stream of warm waters that travels eastward through the Pacific Ocean and that usually manifests itself in the form of both droughts and floods, usually brings a lot of problems to the environment and the communities that suffer. But going back to the opening phrase, sometimes it brings a little less unpleasant surprise as a gift .

This is what happened recently on Coronado Beach in San Diego, California. Due to the influence of El Niño , the tides fell several meters in cycles leaving the discovered something completely unexpected: A wreck not very old but also half – forgotten whose rusting remains protruding from the sand wet, as if trying to escape from them to bear witness to their history. A really curious story that ended in 1937 , when a strong storm unleashed on New Year’s Day broke its moorings and dragged it to the aforementioned beach, where it ran aground .

It was the SS Monte Carlo , which was forever stranded there, in front of what is now known as El Camino Tower, belonging to the Coronado Shores apartments. No one ever tried to rescue him . In fact, his property was never claimed . The Monte Carlo was left to its own devices , to what the elements and the passage of time wanted to make of it, which, as we know, are implacable agents. And so, all his dead work was cracking little by little before the blows of the waves when breaking against his bows and burying himself deeper and deeper under meters of sand , as if it were a clueless submarine

That abandonment had its explanation. But before clarifying it, it should be said that the Monte Carlo was built in 1921 under a different name, SS McKittrick ; a ninety meter long vessel launched in Cape Fear (North Carolina) and designed to serve as a tanker in the First World War. The conflict ended before it was over, so the original use was no longer necessary. Consequently, a series of reforms were made to him and he went on to sail as a tanker in various companies.

But the really juicy part of the SS McKittrick story came later. The exact date is not known but the fact is that it was acquired by a private individual -with no specific identity- who renamed it SS Monte Carlo . The new name was not chosen at random or on a whim, since the ship became a floating casino : a place without a fixed address that thanks to its exceptional characteristics – being able to anchor in international waters – broke the Prohibition that prevailed in those moments and offered its clientele a wide range of illegal services , including gambling, alcohol and prostitution.

Apparently, the SS Monte Carlo – whose name was a clear allusion to one of the districts of Monaco, famous for its casinos – achieved a certain celebrity to the point that preachers on the west coast of the United States lectured against it. What’s more, it was said sotto voce that its mysterious owner belonged or worked for the Mafia , which was the one that put on the boots with the prohibition. But the current legislation changed in December 1933 and the phenomenal illegal alcohol business was over .

It seemed that the end of that busy life dragged the others, knocking one after another as if they were dominoes: after the alcohol on board there were also no more roulette and playing cards, prostitutes and unbridled fun; the “dice, drink and dolls,” as his cheeky publicity slogan used. And this also reached the ship itself, as I mentioned at the beginning, because when it was resting three miles from the Californian coast – the distance that marked the internationality of the waters – the storm decided to put an end to its adventures.

The Monte Carlo appeared from time to time its irons on the waves, in a kind of desperate attempt to remain in memory. When the Child does one of his mischiefs and withdraws the waters, as happened in 2010 or at the beginning of this year, he is exposed and resembles a children’s sand castle semi-eaten by the onslaught of high tide .